Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ruslan’s Progression, Roma’s Probation (Part Two)

Vitals:  Dec 27th to Jan 1st.  Bill came around pretty quickly.  Now I’m the one under a pile, with my face pressed against the carpeting, taking in lung-fulls of lint and cat hair and hollering, “uncle, UNCLE!”

Details:  So, a few days after Christmas my good friend Michelle came to visit.  Michelle is another one of my fabulous friends.  We have a unique relationship because she is just as annoying-ly “yankee” as I am.  Therefore, she’s one of the few people in the world who, if I am about to do something colossally idiotic, will look me in the eyes and say, “Don’t be an idiot.”  As an added bonus, she and her children share my sense of humor.  The high point of the week was when they were berating me (once again) for hanging on to my broken and decrepit dishwasher.  As her daughter was unloading it, she said, “I feel like I need a tetanus shot every time I unload this thing because I keep scratching my hands against all those rusty pegs.”   Some dark and lonely night in my future when I’m lying awake in bed, I will remember that comment and it will bring me joy. 

Anyway, I met Michelle when we were working together at a state pre-school for special needs children.  She went on to get a masters degree in Special Education and she now teaches a special needs pre-school in the Georgia school system.   She stayed for a week and I got more solid information from her than all the therapists and doctors we have worked with so far, combined.  I had asked earlier for some things I could do at home with Ruslan, but the most I got was a suggestion to have him sit-to-stand several times a day as exercise.  Michelle worked up a whole morning routine for us!   We usually do Ruslan’s exercises in the morning.  His bus comes 30 minutes after Reilly and Sharon’s so we have a perfect half hour of dead time in which to work.  Michelle started with us stretching his arms and legs, working on sitting criss-cross applesause (known as “sitting Indian-style”  before the American Indians became socially conscious), teaching him to crawl on his hands and knees, stretching to reach for things across his mid-line, and strengthening his muscles. 

The first point at which I felt like an idiot was when she taught him to crawl.  WHY did I not think to do this myself?  Ruslan’s natural tendency is to combat crawl, but if he’s not doing that, he hops.  He’ll get up on all fours, push his arms forward, then pull both legs together (as one unit) toward his arms, and then push both his arms ahead again (much like a bunny hop).  It never occurred to me that he COULD crawl, but had never been taught.  How can an orphanage full of care-givers watch a child combat-crawl and not teach him to get up on his hands and knees?  (I should know the answer to this since I’m guilty of the same crime).  

Michelle got Ruslan up on all fours, which he definitely wasn’t too happy about, and got him crawling on the first day.  It’s not easy for him.  Crawling uses his legs, which he could just drag when he combat crawls, AND requires that he use them independently.   For the first few days, one of us had to crawl behind him and hold his legs so they moved one at a time.  I spent a good bit of time crawling after him and counting “one, two, three, four,” pushing his legs forward independently and trying to get him to understand the rhythm.  After a while, he got his arms working one at a time, but he is still shaky on his legs and he really doesn’t like crawling at all.  In fact, he really hates it.  Most days he tries to combat crawl as much as possible and we have to remind him to get up on his “big knees.”  He asked this morning, since Roma is still getting rewards for pooping in the potty, if he could get candy for crawling on his big knees.  I told him, “no,” but I think I am going to change my mind about that since we really need to get him off the floor. 

So that, plus stretching and working on his sitting has meant a huge amount of progress for Ruslan physically.  Besides crawling, he can now sit criss-cross applesauce.  He needs a pillow under his butt to keep his torso forward, but when we started, he couldn’t even get his knees down, let alone get his ankles underneath his legs.   Another bonus is that he can also now separate his legs enough to be carried on my hips.  When we first got him, he couldn’t separate his legs so I had to carry him like a football, with his legs sticking straight out behind me.  I forced the issue a few times, but he said it hurt him to have his legs that far apart.  Thank God, he now prefers to be carried on my hip and doesn’t complain about his groin hurting anymore.   Michelle came on Dec. 27 and I’m writing this on Jan. 10, so this is all progress that we have made in two weeks time.  It is moderately encouraging to see such progress, but also daunting.  Numerous baby steps are still BABY steps.  It’s amazing how very many baby steps there are in between “here” and “walking.” 

Michelle also worked with Roma.  Her initial impression of him was positive, but I had admittedly been down playing his skills.  She started right in with him and reminded me to label everything that I give him so he can start learning the language.  The was the second point at which I felt like an idiot.  I knew to do this.  I spent a year working with special needs kids.  I have a teaching degree in education and a minor in early childhood development.  How could I forget something that basic?  However, the truth is that I am not naturally very verbal—all this stuff that I am writing, I would never actually SAY—so I normally didn’t talk very much.  I can’t tell yet if it’s helping, but I am trying to label things for him more.   

Anyway, I came in from shopping one morning and she had gotten a bunch of toys together at our little table and had him sorting some over-sized beads by color.  I know the Ukrainian words for some colors and he definitely could identify “green, red, blue, and white.”  We put some in piles and he sorted red and green beads by putting them into pre-existing piles.  Next she tried to get him to understand the concept of a pattern (lining up the beads, red, green, red, green etc. and seeing if he could continue the pattern), but his brain was just NOT COMPUTING.   He is five, so this would be a reasonable skill for a normal five year old, but considering that he has had little to no experience with any toys, colors or language, it wasn’t surprising that he couldn’t get the concept.  She also had him work with the shape box and he could fit some of the shapes with prompts, but the only one he could really do completely alone was the circle.  He could not complete a task like, “give me the red block” or “give me the square” even when we used the Ukrainian words for the task.   He could string the beads and he made a lovely necklace that he was very attached to for a while.  He could hold a crayon and color, mostly by scribbling back and forth, and he could make a stack of blocks. 

That was about it.  I was wholly discouraged about him by the end of the week.  He still wasn’t looking us in the eyes too much, although he would if he wanted food.  He still chanted strings of Ukrainian words with no meaning—for example, he would say, “car, car, green, white, car, white, green, car,” or “horse, green, horse, horse, green, green, horse.”  I had no idea what that was all about, but I was definitely hoping he would expand his repertoire since it was annoying all of us!   

My goal at that point (and always) is that he will have the necessary skills to at least become a greeter at Wal-Mart.  However, with that track record, even Wal-Mart was looking unlikely.  For example, will he pass the greeter interview if he won’t look anyone in the eyes?  I think the chanting could be a selling point, if we could just get him to chant, “Hello and welcome to Wal-Mart,” but that is going to take some training.  He is five years old.  Will fifteen years be enough to go from “car, car, green car, green, green, car, car, “ to “Hello and welcome to Wal-Mart?”  …only time will tell.   By the way, you might think I am low-balling this, but bear in mind that I have a 20 year old son who doesn’t qualify. 

I asked Bill a few times during the week whether he wanted to keep Roma.  He never really gave me a straight answer.  Whenever I pointed out that Roma was still getting into cabinets, bedrooms etc. and tearing them apart, still making minimal eye contact, still not seeking human company, still defiant when told “no,” and STILL NOT POTTY TRAINED, Bill would just sort of dodge the issue and say, “I know….”  and then change the subject.  This is when I started to realize that I was really hoping Bill would be the one to back out first.  It’s MUCH easier when HE is the bad guy, idiot, coward, etc.  Now it was looking like I would have to either find something to love about this child, or face the fact that I was about to become the fall guy.  What is worse; swallowed pride, or a life time of butt wiping?  I’m just not sure….

Anyway, Michelle stayed for the whole week, which was wonderful.  Her kids were great with Roma and Ruslan and it was nice to have a little of the load taken off for a while.  They left on New Years Day.  Sunday the whole family basically loafed around the TV and Monday began what (for lack of a better term) I will be calling "Hell Week."


  1. What a great friend. We all need someone who is willing to tell us when we're about to do something completely idiotic. Sounds like things are still rough, but that you're actually doing a great job. I am so thankful for your honesty in all of this. Sugarcoating is so exhausting. Praying for your family!

  2. Wow, he can sit unassisted that is HUGE! I am so impressed. Can you imagine in 6 months what he can do, oh and when it is warm and delightful outside and he can swim and stretch on the warm grass. Imagine he can sit outside with his family like a big boy! One more item, a fit ball, you know those large balls you can work out on? Get a smallish one that is more kid size and have him sit on it like a chair but he has to maintain his balance with his feet on the ground. His core muscles will hold him up after some time so then he can sit anywhere unassisted and that leads to walking. Oh I am so excited!! Can you get private OT/PT? Why is the school district not providing this type of OT/PT? Your friend is a true gift. Might try googling some CP exercises as he gets better. For Roman, ya my 5 year old when adopted could not do any of that. She has been home 4 years and almost wrote a 5 sentence paragraph last night on what she likes about winter so he'll come a long way, give him TIME. Lots of time, he'll grow and learn. Set short term 3 step goals. ie. in the next 6 weeks Roman will learn to say "thank you", learn 10 colors and count objects up to 5. Then when he passes that goal, set 3 more small goals. When you get to the end of summer, he'll have accomplished 20+ new goals! Don't give up! Although I am cringing at the foreshadowing name of "hell week"....